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1. Ready

What is mindful breathing?

Recall that mindfulness is largely concerned with cultivating awareness. Mindful breathing, then, simply involves paying attention to your breath.

Why does mindfulness meditation begin with the breath?

In a recent article,
Ed Halliwell Halliwell, E. (2020, January 7). Why Mindfulness Meditation Begins with the Breath. Mindful.
identified the following reasons for why the breath is central to mindfulness meditation:

  1. The breath doesn’t try to get anywhere: Unlike the rest of your life, where you’re focused on being better, doing more, or rushing to get something done, the breath mostly “just does what it does”. Halliwell suggests that you can “learn a lot from the natural rhythm, pace and unfussiness of the way breath continues its work”.
  2. The breath teaches steadfastness: Developing awareness of and continually coming back to the breath, cultivates resilience and helps you remain present in the face of adversity.
  3. The breath happens in the body: Breathing unites the mind and body. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says “if you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong”. Feeling the breath, means feeling life.
  4. The breath isn’t really that boring: When you stop to think about everything that makes breathing possible, you discover a remarkable and complex process that is generally taken for granted. Focusing on the breath can help you cultivate curiosity for all of life’s unseen jewels.
  5. You don’t breathe. The breath breathes: If you try to hold your breath or take rapid, shallow breaths, it’s only a matter of time until your body counters any conscious attempts to restrict the breath. Rather than resisting or clinging to breath, it’s best to align and cooperate with the breath.
  6. The breath invites you to rest and recuperate: Mindful breathing cultivates stillness and space inside your body that helps you recover from the hectic pace of everyday life.

How do I practice mindful breathing?

The Greater Good Science Center suggests that “the most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale”. This focused attention can be a great way to build awareness of the breath but, especially when you’re trying to calm yourself down or relieve tension, it can be helpful to use specific breathing techniques. These breathing techniques are helpful for adults and children alike. For children, it’s especially helpful to couple breathing exercises with mental imagery.

Consider some of the following breathing exercises that you or your students can do:

  1. Flower breath: Bragdon, L. (2012, January 30). 4 Breathing Exercises for Kids to empower, calm, and self-regulate. Move with Me Yoga Adventures.
    Close your eyes and imagine smelling a beautiful flower as you inhale deeply through your nose. Smell the roses, lilac, daisies, daffodils, or any other flower you like. Then, exhale through your mouth, letting go of all the tension inside you. Repeat.
  2. Hissing snake breath Bragdon, L. (2012, January 30). 4 Breathing Exercises for Kids to empower, calm, and self-regulate. Move with Me Yoga Adventures.
    (4-7-8 breathing): With your mouth closed, inhale deeply through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale completely through your mouth making a hissing noise to a count of 8. Repeat. This long, hissing exhalation is a great way to slow down your inner speed.
  3. Square breathing: Imagine that you’re using your breath to draw a square. Breathe in through your nose to a mental count of 4. Hold your breath for a mental count of 4. Then, exhale through your mouth to a mental count of 4 and hold your breath for another four counts. Repeat. Fun fact: Square breathing is one of the most effective remedies for hiccups!
  4. Bunny breath: Bragdon, L. (2012, January 30). 4 Breathing Exercises for Kids to empower, calm, and self-regulate. Move with Me Yoga Adventures.
    Have you ever seen a bunny’s nose wiggle as they sniff the air? Take three quick sniffs in through your nose, hold it for one or two seconds, and then let it all out with one long exhale through the mouth. Repeat. This is a great technique for when you are worked up and can’t find your breath because it aligns with your naturally heightened breathing rate and helps you relax through the exhale.
  5. Washing machine breath: Amor, J. (2013, March 6). Five Fun Breathing Exercises for Kids. Cosmic Kids.
    Sitting cross-legged or in a chair. As you inhale, reach your arms up and interlace your fingers, resting them on top of or behind your head. On the exhale, twist your core from side to side, picturing a washing machine going “wishy-washy wishy-washy” as you twist each way. Repeat. As you twist, make sure you remain sitting upright, activating your core muscles.
  6. Tumble dryer breath: Amor, J. (2013, March 6). Five Fun Breathing Exercises for Kids. Cosmic Kids.
    Hold your hands near your mouth with your right index finger pointing towards the left and your left index finger pointing towards the right. Your two fingers should overlap a bit in front of your mouth. Inhale deeply through your nose and hold your breath for a count of 2. Now, form your mouth into a narrow ‘O’ shape and blow out the exhalation. As you exhale, spin your two fingers around each other and listen to the swishy sound being made by the air blowing through your fingers. Repeat.
  7. High-five hand breath: Hold up one of your hands with your fingers spread out wide and your palm facing out. With your index finger (of the hand that you’re not holding up) start on the inside of your wrist and slowly trace your hand. As you move up your thumb, take a deep breath in through your nose. Exhale slowly through your mouth as you trace down the other

Why is it important to breathe mindfully?

Focusing on your breathing can have a significant positive impact on your wellbeing and stress levels by awakening the body, activating the physiological calming response, and reducing anxiety. Not only this, but breathing is also an incredibly powerful technique that is accessible to everyone and helps you heal from within. In addition to other, smaller effects, researchers have identified
seven major health benefits of breathing. Gregoire, C. (2017, December 6). How Changing Your Breathing Can Change Your Life. Huffington Post.
Deep breathing can:

  1. Stimulate brain growth: A 2005 Harvard study found that focusing attention on your breath can increase cortical thickness.
  2. Improve heart rate variability (HRV): High heart rate variability (greater variance in the time between heartbeats) is an indicator of cardiovascular health and physical resilience (Campos, 2017). In healthy participants, deep breathing practices are known to improve heart rate variability.
  3. Lower stress levels: Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body rest and digest.
  4. Alleviate anxiety and negative emotions: Focusing on breathing can help alleviate anxiety, and has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and negative emotions.
  5. Reduce testing anxiety: In a 2007 study, students who practiced deep-breathing meditation before an exam reported less anxiety and self-doubt and they were able to concentrate better than students who did not practice deep breathing.
  6. Lower blood pressure: Deep breathing helps relax and temporarily dilate blood vessels. Therefore, doctors suggest that breathing deeply and mindfully for just a couple minutes every day has the potential to lower blood pressure.
  7. Alter gene expression: By activating the body's “relaxation response”, deep breathing counters the negative effects of stress by actually altering gene expression in the immune system.

Where can I learn more?

TED Talk – Change Your Breath, Change Your Life by Rachel Shandor

Edutopia – Getting Mindful About Breathing

Greater Good in Action – Mindful Breathing

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…

  • Identify what happens to their body and mind when they feel caught up in emotions
  • Recognize how and when breathing techniques can be used to calm the body and mind
  • Practice deep breathing techniques
References
Beecuz

Amor, J. (2013, March 6). Five Fun Breathing Exercises for Kids. Cosmic Kids.

Bragdon, L. (2012, January 30). 4 Breathing Exercises for Kids to empower, calm, and self-regulate. Move with Me Yoga Adventures.

Campos, M. (2017, November 22). Heart rate variability: A new way to track wellbeing. Harvard Health Publishing.

Gregoire, C. (2017, December 6). How Changing Your Breathing Can Change Your Life. Huffington Post.

Halliwell, E. (2020, January 7). Why Mindfulness Meditation Begins with the Breath. Mindful.

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